RED DOG TRACKS Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez
If you don't own the first two records by Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez--Let's Leave This Town and The Trouble With Humans-- stop reading, go on line (oh wait, you are on line), and buy them now. Now that that's settled, the story so far...
Four decades ago, Yonkers, New York born Chip Taylor, brother of actor John Voight and uncle of the ubiquitous, pouty-lipped Angelina Jolie, wrote the prototypical rock tune "Wild Thing." If he had never done anything else, his place would be assured in music history (just ask Julie Miller). Not content to rest on his laurels, Taylor went on to pen "Angel of the Morning," a hit for more than a couple of artists, and the unjustly overlooked "Son of a Rotten Gambler"--the best Dusty Springfield tune that Anne Murray, the Hollies, and Emmylou recorded instead. In an ironic twist of fate, Taylor soon forsook the music business to become a professional gambler for thirty years. Cut to 2002...
After a couple of uneven, overlooked solo records, Taylor was introduced to a twenty-something fiddler from Texas named Carrie Rodriguez. The two joined up for a tour during which Taylor convinced Rodriguez to sing a bit. This started a partnership to rival the classic duos of Country music, up there with George and Tammy, Porter and Dolly, and Conway and Loretta.
Together the pair has forged a sound that is best described by the name of the label at which they have found a home--no not train wreck--back porch. Somehow Taylor's gruff speak-singing and Rodriguez's punk-country vocals blend as beautifully as the personalities of a long-time, happily married couple. Likewise Rodriguez's raw fiddle tone, redolent of Appalachia without the pitch imperfections, and Taylor's simple strumming, conspire to create a similar sense of intimacy. I have written about them before and can only reiterate that their musical relationship calls to mind "Lost In Translation," where an older man and younger woman forge a bond that is outside of, yet somehow deeper than, sex.
After two consistently brilliant records, full of beautiful songs, the question becomes, "Is there anywhere for the music to go?" The twosome has solved the problem by moving backward and forward at the same time. Taylor's writing for this duo has always been more traditionally old-time country than his older work, but songs on Red Dog Tracks like "Oh Set A Light," "Keep Your Hat On Jenny," and "Son Of Man" sound like they could have been discovered by Alan Lomax in his wanderings among the mountain folk. Add covers like "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)," and "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It," and you have the makings of what could have been a delightful period piece. Instead, this time out Taylor and Rodriguez decided to add Bill Frisell to the mix.
As a longtime
fan of the quirky guitarist, I hate to admit that I have found recent
Frisell excursions into Country on his own records to be less exciting
than his brilliant jazz work with Paul Motian, and on his own earlier
discs. Part of the problem was a lack of foreground--country music is
more than just mood. That said, Frisell's personal experiments with the
genre were certainly worth it to bring him to the place where he can add
the flawless accompaniment and perfect solos he displays on this project.
His floaty style lends its own sense of intimacy to the proceedings, while
adding just the right touch of modernity, reminding us that while they
sound like a family band from Virginia, Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez
are as timely a Sofia Coppola movie.